Transcript of Pelosi, Members of Congress and Advocates Press Conference Today After Touring South Texas Detention Facility
Brownsville, TX – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Congressman Filemon Vela (D-TX), Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV), Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Executive Director Sister Norma Pimentel for a press conference today after touring a South Texas Detention Facility and receiving a briefing from Customs and Border Protection on the influx of unaccompanied children into the United States. In their remarks, Leader Pelosi and the Members of Congress and advocates called for bipartisan solutions to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Below is a transcript of Leader Pelosi’s opening remarks followed by a question and answer session:
Leader Pelosi’s Opening Remarks:
“Good morning. Thank you, Congressman Vela, for the invitation to come here. Thank you, Senator, for your warm welcome. It’s an honor to be here with both of you and with Norma – Sister Pimentel, who is an angel. She is an angel. And I’m glad to be here with my colleague from Nevada, who has been very active in the Congress on this issue, Congressman Steven Horsford of Nevada, as I mentioned. He is a classmate, a freshman classmate, of Congressman Vela.
“Let me say about Congressman Vela that he has been effective from the start on issues that relate to our country. I’m pleased to visit the area – whether it’s McAllen, whether it’s Laredo, whether it’s El Paso, now in Brownsville – on a number of occasions. And he has reinforced the idea that anyone who comes here sees: that this is a community with a border going through it. And this crisis, that some call a crisis, we have to view as an opportunity.
“This morning we had the pleasure – I would say pleasure if it were under other circumstances – but we had the privilege of meeting with Bishop Flores and other advocates for justice on this issue. I said at the time that I used the Bishop’s statement that was presented to the Judiciary Committee earlier this week by the Bishop Seitz of El Paso. That is the path this is about: treating people with respect.
“What we just saw was so stunning. If you believe, as we do, that every child, every person, has a spark of divinity in them and is therefore worthy of respect, what we saw in those rooms was dazzling – a sparkling array of God’s children, worthy of respect. So we have to use, as was said this morning, the crisis that some view as a crisis – and it does have crisis qualities – as an opportunity to show who we are as Americans: that we do respect people for their dignity and their worth; that we know how to get the job done, that relates to, again stopping trafficking. Because that’s one of the fundamentals that will reinforce the law.
“We have the law that established the Department of Homeland Security. We have the Flores decision. So the balance that we’re trying to create is to move these kids, these young people, these families as quickly as possible into another setting. We have to do it in a way that meets certain standards – and not, in our rush, not do the best we can for them.
“I’m a mother of five. I have nine grandchildren. I wish that I could take all those children home with me. I don’t know if it’s – what the rules about it are. I wish that you could all see what we saw today, and what Congressman Vela and Congressman Hinojosa saw yesterday in McAllen. Perhaps the most tragic image I will take home with me – and I wish I could take him too – was the little boy who is infected with a virus and then in isolation all by himself. That’s for his safety and the safety of others.
“Nonetheless, we have to address the three points that Congressman Vela made, and one of them is to work with our Central American neighbors, to be good neighbors. We’re all Americans in this hemisphere. North and South America – to work together to improve the situation in those countries, so that the danger is not so keen, to be careful about the trafficking issue, which is a concern to all of us – wherever it happens in the world – and on our border, our responsibility to do so in way that is in the best interest of the children, what they call the ‘best interest determination.’
“Nobody knows about all of this more and better than Sister Pimentel. You know her. We think of her as an angel. She teaches us about what the actual ramifications are of public policy.
“We’re here to thank the Border Patrol. We think they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances. They have handled this well, but the facilities just do not meet the need. And we have to be helpful. We thank the Department of Defense for what they’re doing, the Department of [Homeland Security]. But the purpose of my visit was to see what we in Congress can do to help, to honor the traditions of our country, to respect the dignity and worth of every person, to do so in a way that is not the fastest, but the best – in the shortest period of time. So I thank, again, my colleague, Congressman Vela. And I yield the floor to Sister Norma Pimentel.”
Leader Pelosi. Any questions?
Q: Have you found any common ground in the House of Representatives with the Republicans to try to reach some sort of, you know – can you speak on that: common ground? Have you found any common ground given the situation after your visit? Is there something you can begin working on?
Congressman Vela. Well I think that, probably the best answer to that question is – because we just began our first week of recess since this really broke, other Members of both parties are coming down over the next week. And I believe that, moving forward, we will be working together hand in hand to make sure we provide a humanitarian solution to the immediate crisis at hand.
Q: Speaking on that same line, the extent to which this humanitarian situation has been politicized, do you think there is still a path forward on immigration reform?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I hope that while some may have tried to politicize it, I hope that was not the case. And I think anyone who comes here knows that this is not about an issue, it’s about a value and it’s a value that we share, all Americans share; that we will show how strong we are to the rest of the world on how we deal with this humanitarian opportunity, or crisis, that we have.
A few days ago I would have been more optimistic about immigration reform. I thought that we were finding a way because we’ve been very patient and respectful of the Speaker trying to do it one way or the other. I don’t think he gives us much reason to be hopeful now, but we never give up. So, there’s still the month of July and again, public sentiment is everything. And to the extent that people say that this is something that we want that hopefully that can change the minds of the – we have a bill, H.R. 15, that has a huge number of co-sponsors – almost every Democrat. But the one’s we don’t have, we’ll have their vote – about three Republicans on the bill.
But harkening back to this issue and your statement, the William Wilberforce legislation of 2008 which is directing some of the actions that we take now was strongly bipartisan. Democrats had the majority but Republicans were in the lead with Democrats on passing that legislation. It passed the House and the Senate unanimously and was signed by President Bush. And it spelled out the responsibility that we have in these cases of trafficking and the rest that we have to deal with.
So I think, you know, part of the legislation sprang from that. The former bill – the [Congressman Dick] Armey bill from Texas that established the Department of Homeland Security and addressed some of these issues – that was bipartisan as well. We just have to strive for bipartisanship. Just be calm; take a breath; let everybody have their say about how they want to characterize this, that and the other thing. But after all is said, not done, but all is said, the fact is: these are children, children and families. We have a moral responsibility to address this in a dignified way – I wouldn’t even say bipartisan, I would say nonpartisan way. And that is what we’re striving to do.
Did you have a question?
Q: During these tours what are you being told about the immigrants coming here? Why are they leaving their countries; is it due to immigration policy here or violence in Central America? There’s also been talk of human smugglers spreading misinformation as well. What are officials here telling you?
Congressman Vela. Tyler, we are being told by the agencies it’s a variety of factors beginning with the socio-economic and conditions of violence in Central America. The effort to reunify with parents and family members who are already here – we heard the story of a mother who hadn’t seen her child in ten years. The last time she saw her was when she was five and now that child is 15 and has made that very difficult trip. And of course, the Administration has acknowledged that there are some stories from some of the people that are coming here that they believe that they have a pathway here once they get here. So it’s a very complicated and very – there’s so many factors at play that, as, you know, we move forward, we’re just going to have to sort a lot of that out.
Leader Pelosi. If I just may add to that. Congressman Vela is such a tremendous intellectual resource on this because this is something we have to be very smart about. In Central America and especially El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, there is – I mean, Honduras has the most murders in the whole world per capita, or whatever. There is tremendous violence and it is threatening to the lives, especially to young people, young girls in particular. And so that’s one of the motivations. And that’s why when we deal with this, many of these kids will be repatriated with families in the U.S., some of them maybe not, strictly speaking, fully documented, but many of them legal residents of the United States.
So I think we have to take it on a case-by-case basis. We don’t want our good nature abused by those who would misrepresent what’s happening in the United States on the subject of immigration to affect how we deal with a refugee problem – a refugee problem somewhere else in this world, a refugee problem right at our front door. So it is you know, case-by-case. We must have due process; we must enforce the law, but we must – and that law includes respecting of the claims of persecution or violence at home especially for juveniles.
Q: Are there any funds coming to the local law enforcement?
Congressman Vela. I’m sorry, what was the question, again?
Q: Any funding coming to the local law enforcement of the area?
Congressman Vela. When we get back, we’ll be working on those things. We have a Homeland Security Committee hearing next week in McAllen. Members of both parties will be there and those are the kind of issues we’re going to be exploring.
We’ve got one more question.
Q: Mrs. Pelosi, on Monday Governor Perry said our borders are not secured. After the tour this morning, how do you feel about our nation’s security?
Leader Pelosi. Actually, just the reverse. Many of these people turned themselves in. This isn’t about a porous border; this is about apprehension. Many, many more people are, shall we say, mutually apprehended. So, this isn’t really about that. That’s an excuse, not a reason. But I’ve heard the Governor say some sympathetic words about welcoming newcomers to our country. In other words, why don’t we just put all that aside and talk about what we’re going to do to help these children and families and in doing so, making it safer for them to stay at home or have due process in how they might seek asylum or refugee status in the United States.
And so I’m not going to take any bait on what one partisan said or the other. I think we all agree – I would recommend to you all to read the nonpartisan statement from the Catholic Conference of Bishops, again, I mention, presented by the Bishop of El Paso, who is head of this committee on this unaccompanied children issue. It talks about, again, at the best interest of the children, to determination; it talks about dignity and worth; it talks about some practical matters as regard to the region – when I say the region, Central America. It talks in a very, very value-based, idealistic, pragmatic way to deal with this issue with dignity. And that’s what we intend to do.
So again, people will say this and that. The fact is, the reality is: the children are there and we need to address the problem. It breaks your heart to waste one ounce of energy on anything other than just addressing the problem.
Can we just have a woman ask a question? Because we do have to go, but not before we hear from a woman.
Q: Well speaking of due process, with only 240 immigration judges and 40,000 to 50,000 new entries, immigrant children in the past year. How will immigration judges handle all these new cases with all the backlogs?
Leader Pelosi. And of course the attorneys to help the children but some of the people that we heard from before in the advocacy group had some suggestions about that. Mr. Hinojosa, who was with us earlier and was in McAllen yesterday and was with us when we toured the facility today, said there may be some ways to get retired judges to come back on duty. But Sister Pimentel may have something to say about that on the judges. The question is how can a process end up this quickly if we don’t have enough judges?
Sister Pimentel. Well, I think that as long as we can all come together to find a solution to that it can happen. Because what I see, there’s a lot of real goodness. We need to make sure that the kids do get due process and that this is taken care of the right way. So I think that’s important and that can happen. Thank you.
Congressman Vela. I’ll just address that for a second really quickly, because there’s a lot of – that’s a very good question and a lot more needs to be done on it. I can tell you that on Friday, Congresswoman Jackson-Lee, who is one of our senior Members on Homeland Security, was preparing to file a bill to add a significant number of judges to the system. But we’re going to have to do a whole lot more than just that.
My sense of it is that, as we increased enforcement over the last ten years, we didn’t prepare for the next stage of the process, And so, I think it’s certainly a question we have to address. Thank you all very much for being here. Leader Pelosi, welcome to South Texas. It’s the home of our newest medical school in Texas, the newly merged University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and hopefully, in the very near future, the sight of our Space X launching site. But thank you very much.